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istock_Dina Mariani

Practitioner or guru: Who is best placed to support small practices?

7th Aug 2018
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There are a lot of places a practitioner can go for advice - but Mark Telford believes there is no better support network than your peers.

In the accountancy sector in the UK, there is a proliferation of coaches, advisers, gurus, consultants, growth specialists – call them what you want – who all want to tell us how we can grow a bigger, better more profitable practice, faster and do it working fewer hours.

If you are active on social media or attend accountancy events such as Accountex you will have come across some of these so-called experts.

If these ‘experts’ haven’t run a practice and don’t have experience of building a successful practice are they really the best place to advise us on how to do it?

Who should we turn to if we want to grow a successful part-time practice from home, a digital practice, an advisory practice or dare I say it a £1m practice working three days a week?

My view is that we need to look closer to home to gain valuable insights, experiences, and advice on how to build and develop successful practices.

We should be speaking to our fellow practitioners, those like-minded accountants who we come across at networking events and online.

We should be collaborating with our peers and not be competing with them. Those who have been there, done it, have the t-shirt and are happy to share their story.

Some of the best advice and support I have had has come from a small group of sole practitioners who I meet with on a quarterly basis. Here we share experiences, give advice and discuss matters in a relaxed environment. No pressure, no judgement just useful exchanges of information and real-life experiences.

Any matters which require further discussion are followed up online, over the phone or in person.

If a business coach or consultant hasn’t experienced what we are dealing with, how are they best placed to offer advice on this? They may have read the right books or been on the right courses, but what about practical experience? 

Have they already achieved what they are trying to sell to us? Do they have a tried and trusted blueprint which we can follow?

Bear in mind what may have worked 10 years ago probably won’t work now.

Most of these consultants target the low hanging fruit – new startups and sole practitioners who have started up with a general idea of what they want to do but without a clear plan in place to achieve business success.

Perhaps they’ve been trading a while without achieving the success they want and are desperate for guidance from those who ‘really know’ what they’re talking about.

Who is best placed to support that accountant? An accountant with a similar background who has recently faced similar challenges and come out the other side or a coach who thinks they know how it should be done?

When I started out I spoke to ex-colleagues and spent a lot of time with a local accountant who had been in practice for 20+ years. Bear in mind I had been out of practice for 16 years by the time I decided to start my practice. I had never used Sage desktop software (a blessing), wasn’t clear on what I should charge clients or how long the work would take, plus much more.

A lot of this I learnt on the hoof but I also received great advice on what I should and shouldn’t be doing, what may work, what probably wouldn’t and what was the best use of my time – from other sole practitioners. I found a great deal of valuable information on AccountingWEB.

Looking at what we do on a holistic level for a moment, there is plenty of work to go around for accountants and especially smaller practices where 50 or 100 clients may be all we want/need.

We as a collective should be supporting each other to run better practices to help improve the level of service that we provided to small businesses and individuals.

We can best do this through collaboration, speaking to our peers who know what we’re dealing with.

We don’t need advice from coaches who haven’t walked the walk.

Replies (15)

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By Moonbeam
07th Aug 2018 19:16

I agree with much of what you say. A lot of the changes I've made in the last seven years have been with the encouragement of some fantastic people on Aweb and a mentor accountant who was very supportive.
Marketing skills are unfortunately not part of most accountants' dna, and those are the ones I have paid far too much for without really getting value for money. I don't think the marketing people really understand how difficult it is to get a client to move, even when their current accountant is clearly not providing a good service. We keep getting told to buy in marketing services, but I have serious doubts we would get better results than doing it ourselves.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Moonbeam:
Mark Telford Chartered Accountant
By Mark Telford
07th Aug 2018 19:28

Hi Moonbeam - with the marketing did you get told to 'niche'?

Good to hear that you benefited from the advice and support from your peers.

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Replying to Mark Telford:
By Moonbeam
08th Aug 2018 16:49

Yes-that was the message all the time. I do that on LinkedIn but am much more general on my website. No matter what you do it's still hard getting clients.

Thanks (1)
By Tom 7000
14th Aug 2018 10:47

You are thinking too hard about it...

The 3 keys to success;
1. Go and get some new clients
2. Dont tell everyone everything you know

Thanks (2)
Runagood - the business growth AI software system for accountants
By Runagood
14th Aug 2018 10:50

Hear hear!

Thanks (0)
By Ian McTernan CTA
14th Aug 2018 10:58

I don't bother with all these 'gurus' as I strive for a good work/life balance which allows me to get out and play golf quite often in the summer months!

It's much easier to generate and keep clients if you do a good job and get referrals.

I'm not a fan of 'stack them high and sell them cheap' which seems to be the recommendation of many of these 'advisors' who say a 'churn rate' of 10% + is acceptable.

Best advice is from those that do.

Or as the old saying goes 'those that can, do, those that can't teach'.

Thanks (1)
Mark Lee headshot 2023
By Mark Lee
14th Aug 2018 11:23

Pokes head up above the parapet...

I tend to agree with a lot of what you say there Mark. When I first set up The Inner Circle for sole practitioner Accountants, I played down my role as facilitator.

I knew that the bulk of the value and benefit from joining the group would be the combined and shared wisdom from other sole practitioners sitting around the table at our monthly meetings in London.

What became apparent was that this was insufficiently attractive. Members wanted to feel they were also getting my insights, tips and tricks - gleaned from my many years in (albeit larger) practice and my hundreds of conversations with smaller practitioners over the years.

I still share that knowledge which tends to be more focused on the marketing, promotion, strategic side of things. I am always reticent to tell accountants how to run their practices - for exactly the reasons you set out.

Unlike some of the 'gurus' to whom you refer I don't have set or standard approaches that I encourage every accountant I mentor to follow.

It's 'horses for courses', in my view. I rarely hear from anyone who feels their investment in an accountancy specific business mentor or coach was a waste of money.

But I do hear from many accountants who have struggled along for years without seeking out or receiving any support or input. Practice doesn't make perfect. We all ned to learn from experience and then do things differently if we want different results.

Thanks (2)
Replying to bookmarklee:
Mark Telford Chartered Accountant
By Mark Telford
16th Aug 2018 09:47

Hi Mark - the difficulty a lot of accountants have is that they view other practices as the competition and try not to catch their eye at a networking event let alone have a conversation with them.

As a starter they need to speak to one or a few other practitioners. This can help them identify issues and work out a way to address it.

My main point is that a fellow practitioner should be the first option and not to jump in both feet with a 'guru'.

Thanks (0)
Richard Sergeant
By Richard Sergeant
14th Aug 2018 12:04


Some targeted help in any profession can also be useful.

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Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
14th Aug 2018 16:48

Another great article Mark, which I again see myself agreeing with much of the content.

When I first started out AWEB was a massive source of information for new start ups. Things like experiences with software what is good what is not etc can save you loads of wasted time, by advice from others who have tried it before you.

It maybe not as good now as a lot of people jump all over newbies which is unfair. After initially receiving lots of help I in turn have received pm's from others asking for my experiences which I am happy to do.

Marketing is something most accountants struggle with so I get why an industry has grown up offering this as a service.

But marketing support is as much as I would consider, I would not engage with these people who insist you must grow constantly or stick your prices up 7 times what you currently charge, when they have not walked the walk or built and sold a successful practice.

I am best fixed to deliver on that myself. Although it would seem that some accountants are actually quite poor business people when you read some of the testimonials in these guru books.

I do speak with other accountants a lot locally as we all have the same issues and we are not really competition as there is loads of work available for all.

For me I speak with my clients a lot about what works for them as a lot of things are not industry specific, I also gain a lot from other business people and my professional network.

So I would agree that you are better off speaking with those who have been there and done it, rather than those who say they have and wrote a book on it.

Thanks (1)
By coachsam
17th Aug 2018 20:40

Hi Mark. I am one of those coaches who helps companies build effective sales funnels and grow their revenues. My response to your point is this: Why does it have to be "this" or "that"? Why can't it be talking to your peers and working with an expert? Obviously, not all experts are a good fit. Just like not all peers have sound advice. At the end of the day, it all comes down to being open minded and using discernment. If a coach can show you a system on how to increase your monthly revenue by 15% isn't that worth listening to? Also, while there are subtle nuances in each industry (accounting, medical, legal, etc.), the nuts and bolts are just the same: drive targeted traffic, capture leads, and convert those leads.

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Replying to coachsam:
Mark Telford Chartered Accountant
By Mark Telford
17th Aug 2018 23:16

"...the nuts and bolts are just the same: drive targeted traffic, capture leads, and convert those leads..."

Why is the focus always on more sales?!

This is exactly the point - there is far more to running any business than just more sales.

Which is why sole practitioners starting out are better off talking to their peers.

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Replying to coachsam:
Mark Lee headshot 2023
By Mark Lee
18th Aug 2018 07:25

Some of the accountants I work with want to grow, some don’t. That’s fine by me.

I know how frustrated they get by the near constant pressure from others to grow. And it’s rare that anyone who considers accountants to be the same as other ‘companies’ really understands them sufficiently well. There are key differences that have a major impact on motivation, turnover and profits.

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Replying to coachsam:
Mark Lee headshot 2023
By Mark Lee
18th Aug 2018 07:27


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By AndrewV12
14th Sep 2018 10:56

A good article, thrashing out the wheat from the chaff, but do we really know how enough to advise,say a driver or a plasterer on how to run his business.

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